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Who are we as Evangelicals?

In May 2008, a group of Christian leaders came together to reassert the true meaning of evangelicalism and to discuss the role of evangelicals in public discourse. The results of the meetings were compiled in a uniform statement, thereafter known as The Evangelical Manifesto.

In the words of the writers, the idea was crystallized like this: “For those who are Evangelicals, the deepest purpose of the Manifesto is a serious call to reform—an urgent challenge to reaffirm Evangelical identity, to reform Evangelical behavior, to reposition Evangelicals in public life, and so rededicate ourselves to the high calling of being Evangelical followers of Jesus Christ.” (For a complete, online copy of the Manifesto, see http://www.anevangelicalmanifesto.com/docs/Evangelical_Manifesto.pdf.)

The Manifesto received a mixed response. Some eagerly signed it; others viewed it with suspicion. In response to The Manifesto, Newsweek writer Lisa Miller stated the following: “What if the evangelicals wrote a manifesto and nobody cared? It was supposed to be a decisive document, a credo that unified American evangelicals around the Christian principles that form the foundation of their faith. It would restore to American evangelicals a sense of mission and history – giving them permission to look beyond party politics for their values while at the same time urging them to be orthodox and ethical in their lives and in the world. Instead, “An Evangelical Manifesto” was released three weeks ago to almost no fanfare. Aside from a handful of news stories and some dutiful intervarsity sniping online, the fallout from the “Evangelical Manifesto” was – and continues to be – less than earth-shattering.”

Now, we can debate the veracity of Ms. Miller’s comments all day long, but both her remarks and the impetus behind the manifesto do make me ponder a few questions.

1)      In terms of its intercourse with the world, how do you think that evangelicals are doing? What do we do well? In what areas do we need improvement?

2)      Are we really as judgmental and hypocritical as many perceive us to be?

3)      Question #2 leads me to my final question. I love the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Most of us know this great little story. A Pharisee walks into the temple and begins to pray. He says: “I thank you, God, that I’m not like the other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even look up into heaven. He simply cried, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” According to Christ, it was the tax collector, not the Pharisee, who went away more justified.

 

Now, is it just me, or could that parable have been re-worded? Maybe it could have gone something like this:  “The evangelical goes to church to pray. She says: ‘I thank you, God, that I’m not like everyone else – the idolaters, the homosexuals, the adulterers, the fornicators, or the members of a particular political party. I go to church, read my Bible, pay my tithes, sing in choir and quote Scripture from memory. I thank you that I’m not like this sinner who sits here.’ In the meantime, a  sinner, who is well aware of her status before God comes in and prays: “Have mercy on me, a sinner!’” Who walks away more justified?

 

Make no mistake, I’m preaching to myself here as much as anyone else. I’m in no way immune from hypocrisy. We’re called to be salt and light; we’re called to proclaim the gospel in word and in deed; we’re called to love others as Christ loved the church. Hmmmm, if we’re going to be honest, are we as evangelicals often more like the Pharisee or the tax collector?

5 Comments

  • Avatar

    Heather A. Goodman

    I think it’s hard to make a

    I think it’s hard to make a call saying yes or no evangelicals are like this or that. In truth, each church and each person are different.

    No, as a group, we’re probably not as judgmental and hypocritical as all of the critics say. But we are as judgmental and hypocritical as some of the critics say.

    Who is not judgmental and hypocritical?

    This is not to excuse the behavior but brings me to the idea of addressing the issue in concentric circles. I can’t answer for all of evangelicals. I answer for myself, then I address the issue in my local church, and so it goes. This is not to say that these can’t be simultaneous or that I have to wait to be perfected before addressing it in my local community. I’d never address it there if that were the case! Not to mention how communal and individual development go hand-in-hand.

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    Sharifa Stevens

    Definition of “Evangelical”

    Defining evangelicalism is very tricky thing indeed, what with the plethora of demonminations, and the heat of feuding amongst them.

    Add to that the fact that folks in the US tend to want to define themselves. It seems that the days are long gone when a single association, group, or individual could successfully and accurately speak for the whole.

    Is the Evangelical Manifesto in Korean? Spanish? Swahili? Yoruba? Mandarin? Hm. Which evangelicals have had a chance to contribute? Pentecostals? Bible churches? Presbyterians?

    Man, we are sooo severely splintered that I am skeptical of having one manifesto that we would all agree on, unless it comprised one word. Jesus. Similarities just end there.

    Brit, it seems like your column today has two points; one, about

  • Avatar

    Sandra Glahn

    If an Evangelical Shows Mercy in the Woods…

    …and no human witnesses it, did it actually happen? If there’s no trumpet fanfare when Baptists deliver a million meals to hurricane areas, or World Vision or Samaritan’s Purse show up during disasters, is what they do real?

    For years many unsung heroes who follow Christ have been visiting prisoners, working to stop those who trade in sex, providing meals for the hungry… My own dad, a retiree, picks up day-old bread from grocery stores and delivers it to the needy. To my knowledge, no one has ever profiled him in a news story–not even the church bulletin. Many of his own friends probably don’t know he does it. So on the one hand, evangelicals do a lot of "living what they believe" in secret.

    • Avatar

      Philip Verghese "Ariel"

      Reply to comment If an Evangelical Shows Mercy in the Woods…

      Sandra, Thats really good news, Yes our Lord expect the same from us.  As He said: Let not the left hand know what the right hand is doing. I appreciate your Dad's effort. His reward is in Heaven. Let him rejoice and you too.

      But any way you brought it here LOL

      thanks for sharing

      Best

  • Avatar

    Anonymous

    Evangelicals
    Brittany, I enjoyed reading your thought provoking article. Beyond enjoyment I could echo that you wrote truth! I was just saying to someone recently how we are so much like the Pharisees in that we have come up with systems and rules….yes we have though we couch ours very differently with religious jargon and sub-titles. Nontheless we lack compassion that touches the human heart to desire change and a hunger to know Christ who can change them. I have been guilty in my Christian walk of going into church with a long list of ” what I don’t do” while judging someone else whos dirty laundry list I might know. The deception was my list of “what I don’t do” was what I counted as righteousness. It was the way I made myself feel better than the other person. In my deception and ignorance I judged while the other person perhaps admitted their need just like the tax collector finding the grace that comes from HIM to set us free. I have tried to live the religious life which didn’t work and never will regardless of the label we put on it. The truth is this life of following Christ is all about about relationship! Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 11:28 that we all need to come to HIM, and take HIS yoke…not someone elses!!!